Nuri al Maliki has been described by either supporters or detractors as boring and humble and politically hard and aggressive. In spite of his declining popularity, he is confident he can still dominate Iraqi politics. Rivals lack his resources, notably security arrangements, money, media access and far-reaching connections.
A country two-thirds Shiite and one third Sunni needs power sharing to reflect this, and Shiite Maliki is seen as the only one equipped to carry on in government. The Sunni opposition is broken up and the Kurds are concentrating on autonomy, not a united Iraq.
Security has deteriorated fast over the last four months, Maliki launching an ineffective offensive to regain control. Battles have been waged between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the extremist Sunni group that has led an insurgency around Baghdad, and Iraqi security forces. Both sides have documented atrocities by the others. Iraqi military and officials say several thousand soldiers have deserted, and that more than a thousand have been killed. Soldiers complain of a disastrous lack of leadership and logistics.
Maliki came back from 20 years in exile after the US invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein, whose death warrant he signed. Elected to the national assembly, he helped draft the new constitution. He became prime minister in 2006, but made promises he didn’t keep, and he accomplished little.
He ran for office again in 2010 and came second, managing to stay on top, forming a national unity government including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. But he himself questioned whether this was satisfactory. Citing a lack of appropriate candidates, he concentrated the roles of Minister of Defence, Interior and National Security in his own hands.
This year, among Maliki’s biggest worries is the influential Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr, whose popularity has grown, even though he said he was retiring from politics in February. Sadr supported Maliki in 2006 and 2010. Now he has become a liability for Maliki.
Sadr said in a speech: “Politics has become a door for injustice, recklessness and infringements to allow a dictator and tyrant to remain, only to steal money, cut necks and bomb cities.”
Accused of corruption, Maliki also has a weak record of economic achievements. Failing reforms, Iraqis’ living standard has gone from bad to worse. His stalled government has not held a parliamentary majority for two years, and yet voters appear ready to return him to power.